Travel Time with Tanmay — 2
[This is the second post in what I hope will be a series of my travel stories. Read the first one here.]
If you’ve read my previous post, you’d know that I’ve a penchant for getting into minor trouble while travelling. The last story could be justified as one of a folly of youth, a first time traveller and what not. But by the time of this story I have already travelled by myself multiple times with some inconveniences such as forgetting my entire wallet at home (Maldives, 2010); finding myself and a fellow traveller with a sum total of INR 50 with at least 2 bus rides and a train ride remaining (Nalanda/Dhanbad, 2013) and planning and successfully executing finding people in Istanbul’s busiest avenue (it looks like this) without any roaming (Turkey, 2013) to name a few.
In the summer of 2014, I was awarded and accepted a scholarship to study for one term at Uppsala University, Sweden. That was an amazing ride and marked the first time that I lived all by myself, handling everything from food to laundry to rent all alone and in a foreign land. That was quite a learning process and the story I’m about to relate occurred about two and a half months at which point I’m fairly comfortable with the people and getting around.
In November 2014, I had a full week between courses and decided to take a little visit across the border to soak in some of that amazing scenery. I had the entire trip planned out well. Oslo, I would meet a friend’s cousin, see the city for 2 days. Then hop onto the world famous Bergen Line — widely regarded as one of the top rail lines in terms of pure scenic value — reach the fjord city of Bergen and spend a few days there before flying back to Stockholm. I was a pauper-esque student so I booked myself on budget travel and hostels throughout the trip. Fairly standard traveller stuff.
For the first part of the stay, I was booked in at the Anker Apartment, very nice would definitely recommend it. Prior to heading out, I was warned not to use my roaming as it is frightfully expensive and to whip my phone out only for emergencies. Fair enough. Didn’t wanna spend that sweet stipend money getting unnecessary WhatsApp messages from people. A couple of days before leaving I made a mental note of all the places I needed to be and how to get there. Mental note. Mental. I looked up Anker, which was definitely in Oslo, and its directions said, “Get on X train that heads to Drammen and then use Y bus to make it to Z busstop from where it is a short walk.” Cool. Noted. Let’s travel!
Day of travel finally arrives and wheee I’ve just flown Norwegian, sat in a row with a strikingly pretty lady with whom I shared exactly 0 words (it was like 7am okay? Groggy much) and landed in Oslo. Great, onward to the hostel to drop my stuff off and meet my acquaintance. Cool. Made my way to the train station and using stellar mind powers, dug out that mental note to take the train to Drammen and not like normal people, get on the train to Drammen, but get OFF AT OSLO. Bought a ticket. To Drammen.
Got on the train yay super excitemax! Nice, standard issue European high speed train with stunning views of Norway’s countryside. We’re about 15 minutes from the Oslo sentralstasjon when the train driver makes an announcement.
Train driver: “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s been a minor fire at the Oslo station due to which this train will not be going further to Drammen as scheduled.”
Me: “Oh no, what am I going to do now!” (Why do you need to do anything, dummy, you’re stopping at Oslo!)
Train driver: “For passengers who need to head forward, we will make arrangements via taxi or bus shuttle. Please show your ticket to our representatives when you reach.”
Me: “Wow these guys think of everything! First world stuff huh.”
Now, I’m sure you’re smarter than I am and have caught the drift that I don’t need to be in Drammen, a town of 100,000 which doesn’t turn up Norway’s must-see places. I just had to be on the train that went there and had to get off at Oslo. Fairly straightforward, but no, Mr Mental Note did not think at all.
Anyway, we’ve reached Oslo. I got off the train, walked about looking for the train company’s representative. Side note — this is different from India because there are private train operators there and it was the first time I came across that and just couldn’t wrap my head around that. I reached the taxi bay and finally found a lady from that company and showed her my card and related my sob story. She said that the issue was resolved and that the train will take me forth. Oh! Okay, cool stuff, I’ll just walk back with this (not very) heavy bag of mine. I must’ve walked 5 metres when she called back, “Sir, sir, it’s not fair that they didn’t update you and you made it all the way here. Please take this card and you may use this with any of the taxis there.” “Whoa thanks, you didn’t have to, but thanks!”
I literally didn’t pay attention to the universe forcefully ending my trip at Oslo and wriggled a way to get a taxi ride to Drammen.
So I’m walking down the taxi bay — literally all of them some or the other kind of Mercedes Benz and I’m already drooling — till my eyes locked on with the only other brown guy. In a sea of Caucasians, we did that silent brown guy solidarity nod and I walked up to him, threw the bag in the boot of his C class and hopped in. Chap turned out to be from Pakistan and started chatting in a mix of Urdu and Punjabi. He asked me where I’m from, what I doing in Uppsala and how my flight was. I asked him about his family, how he likes it there and whatnot. And then he asks
Cabbie: “Waise, aap Drammen jaa kyun rahe ho? Tourists toh wahan jaate nahin.” [Why are you going to Drammen, it’s not a place tourists usually go to.]
Me: <Oh wow. Good question. When did Drammen turn up on my itinerary?> I rummaged through the sheaf of mental notes I had and realised that I had, without a doubt, messed up. But I had to keep face you know. “Arre, Oslo, Bergen jaise badi cities toh maine dekhni hai waise bhi. Mujhe toh asli Norway dekhna hai, chhote shehron mein log kaise jeete hain.” [Oh I will be seeing big cities in any case, I want to see the real Norway, how people actually live.]
I’m sure Mr Cabbie called BS in his head right there but he was very kind to not say anything and continued to entertain me with stories about his move here and how he finds life for the next hour or so that we rolled up. In my head, I said, well I’m never going to be able to afford a C class taxi ride, so might as well just go with it. I was dropped off at the town centre, which has got to be the most dreary one I’ve ever seen, given a reciept worth roughly INR 8k (damn!) and left to my devices.
I did a bit of maths and realised that since I did have some hours, I might as well actually see small town Norway. And so like any other good tourist, I put on my big goofy tourist smile and literally started walking around in residential neighbourhoods. Yeah, kinda weird I know but yolo. Saw the mailman? Waved at him! Saw random kids being picked up from football practice, smiled at them and their parents! It was honestly really nice. It had small town hill station vibes. I even found a nice spot to make myself a ham and cheese sandwich.
Okaydokes. I’ve walked around, soaked in some of the great views, caused a minor scare in a lot of houses who saw a weird guy in a yellow jacket aimlessly walking around. It’s time to head back to Oslo, where my hostel actually is. So I begin walking, obviously, there’s no taxi I can afford. And walking. And walking. Following a very circuitous and confusing set of street signs. I’m surprised I didn’t cross into traffic at any point and reached the station in one piece.
1st November, 2014 happened to be a Saturday. A weekend. Something taken very seriously in the Nordics and that means literally no one who doesn’t have to work would be around. Okay fair enough, that’s how they roll. I reach the station looking to buy a ticket, only to have no ticketsellers at the counter! (See above explanation for why.) Except, and you gotta love automation, for a couple of vending machines. Great! But if these are like anything we had in Sweden, they needed a card and my debit card unfortunately didn’t operate outside of India (I’m all cash money). I’m still a fair distance from the vending machines, getting freaked out about having to possibly spend the night in a weird city where I know no one and have no way to get out of. I even contemplated walking up to someone asking them to buy it on their card and I’d pay ‘em cash. But a small tinge of overconfidence (again) made me walk up to machine to try my card (why?) and that’s when I realised that Norway still kinda races ahead of Sweden — the machine accepted notes too! I cried tears of joy and probably muttered a thousand thanks to the travel gods. Bought my ticket, eagerly stood at the tracks and finally made it back to Oslo where I needed to be.
There you have it. An unnecessary, yet fun journey all because I misinterpreted very simple instructions.
As a bonus for getting this far, here are pics from Bergen, an extremely pretty place.